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Interview: AT&T Cybersecurity Solutions President and AlienVault CEO Barmak Meftah

Credit: MSSP Alert

Now that AT&T has finalized the AlienVault acquisition, how will the two companies come together and march forward in the cybersecurity and MSSP (managed security services provider) ecosystems?

Barmak Meftah
Barmak Meftah

We gathered answers this morning from AlienVault CEO Barmak Meftah, who takes on the added title of president, AT&T Cybersecurity Solutions. That solutions business is now a division within AT&T Business. Among the key focus areas: Accelerate customer and partner adoption of automation and orchestration solutions, and thereby simplify risk management.

Indeed, AT&T wants to shift the security discussion from tools and technologies toward a business conversation involving risk mitigation. And yes, that conversation requires close relationships between AT&T, AlienVault, and channel partners -- including MSSPs, Meftah tells MSSP Alert.

Here's a look at our conversation, including paraphrased thoughts, from this morning.

MSSP Alert: Let’s start by talking about the lead up to the deal. Were you surprised that AT&T emerged as a potential buyer, and did you see the potential deal synergies from the very start of the conversations?

Meftah: The conversations were an evolution over time. Initially, we had an on-and-off dialog more about an MSSP-oriented partnership. And then we began to learn about AT&T’s reach  beyond cyber in the enterprise. AT&T Business has reach to an incredible amount of midmarket customers -- stretching all the way to the top-end down to SME enterprises. AlienVault's installed base is roughly two-thirds midmarket, and one-third high-end enterprise. The combination of AlienVault's automation and orchestration capabilities with AT&T's reach was very appealing and ideal to us.

MSSP Alert: When did AT&T share the idea of launching a dedicated cybersecurity business division, and when did  the idea of having you lead it surface?

AT&T’s Danessa Lambdin

Meftah: Let me start by offering kudos to the folks who were running the cyber division inside AT&T before this deal happened. They generated tremendous growth inside the AT&T business. Danessa Lambdin, Thaddeus Arroyo,  Mo Katibeh and others were all aligned on the vision of this deal. Basically, we all believe the existing AT&T cybersecurity business growth plus AlienVault's automation and orchestration presented the opportunity to have an autonomous business unit that is elevated within the organization. Cybersecurity is a Top Three industry opportunity. And AT&T has a unique opportunity to take advantage of it. I was humbled when they asked me to run it because current executives are equally capable.

MSSP Alert: Now that AT&T officially owns AlienVault, can you describe the new division’s focus and commitment to partners – particularly MSSPs, MSPs, VARs and distributors?

Meftah: Let me assure all our partners -- and the partner definitions span the gamut, from distributors and VARs to MSPs, MSSPs and more -- that we'll continue to support them. If anything our level of support to them will increase. The breadth and depth of financial resources that AT&T brings is far larger than what we had on our own. Also, AT&T's MSSP business is not competitive to AlienVault's MSSP ecosystem. AT&T's MSSP business is at the top-end of the enterprise. We don’t have aspirations to take AT&T's MSSP business down market. You'll see no competitive pressure between AT&T's MSSP business and AlienVault's MSSP ecosystem.

MSSP Alert: Are there potential AT&T-AlienVault synergies that can potentially benefit partners?

Meftah: We'll be formulating our overall cyber strategy over the next month or so. But I can tell you this right now: We exist to simplify the consumption of security  -- end-to-end, edge-to-edge, all the IT assets. We want to protect, detect and respond in a simplified way. Right now, customers typically need to buy a ton of point products and then glue them all together -- and that's not the proper answer for security. We need to position security as a risk and business problem, rather than a tool problem. We view it as a need to have one operating system and many applications. We have our USM platform -- the equivalent of an operating system. And we have AlienApps to support third-party technology vendors. We want to be the automation platform that brings together those security controls from third parties. It should all operate as one solution.

MSSP Alert: AlienVault has a partner program led by Mike LaPeters. Does that continue forward?

Mike LaPeters of Malwarebytes

Meftah: That continues as-is. Mike is an integral part of the team. He will continue managing the channel ecosystem. Whether you're talking about VAR or VAD, the number of channel deals we're seeing is increasing exponentially. And in terms of MSSPs, we want to assure partners that our MSSP ecosystem support is undying.

MSSP Alert: What do you see as your top priorities for the next few months?

Meftah: We'll get the organizations working together. We have such a good support system from the executives in AT&T Business. We have autonomy to run this security business, and we'll fuze together two fantastic organizations. But I have been through M&A before. And I've studied M&A. During the M&A process, sometimes businesses inadvertently step on what's already working. We want to avoid that mistake. We want to maintain the autonomy of the teams to make sure they keep growing the business and partner opportunities. We'll find areas of synergies where we can accelerate growth. But we don't want to rush in terms of potentially over-integrating or over-analyzing everything. It really comes down to our focus on automation, orchestration and simplicity for partners and customers. That will be our focus.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.